If you want to gaze at the wonder of the Northern Lights in the next decade, you better book a ticket soon. Scientists expect the lights to fade and appear less frequently over the next ten years, making the chances of crossing them off your bucket list a bit slimmer.
The Northern Lights are the result of solar activity that causes explosions on the sun to send charged particles flying toward Earth’s atmosphere. Those particles are pulled toward the Earth’s magnetic field and the North Pole, colliding with gas molecules in the atmosphere along the way. Those collisions release energy in the form of light, which is what causes the sky to glow in those glorious displays that cause otherwise sane people to stand outside in the middle of the night during the dead of winter in Norway.
The sun has an 11-year solar cycle divided between times when it is active—and sending off those charged particles towards Earth on solar winds—and when it’s dormant. We’re at the tail-end of that cycle’s apex right now. The sun’s activity was at its peak in early 2014 and is now in its declining phase, which is marked by an increase in the high-speed solar winds that send charged particles to the Earth and make for even more vivid displays of the Northern Lights. After 2016, however, the sun’s activity will reach its dormant phase, resulting in fewer nights filled with the aurora borealis.
Luckily, the stunning phenomenon will be more visible than usual in the coming weeks as the Earth moves into a new alignment with the sun’s most active regions. Combined with clear skies, that means aurora borealis watchers may get even more of an eyeful than usual.
If you want to catch the light show before it fades, here are some of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights.